Thu
Sep 14 2017 2:00pm

You Might Be Reading an Edwardian Romance If…

My Fair Baron by Licie Laine

Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between various historical periods. Regency and Victorian and Edwardian can sometimes be indistinguishable if a date isn't given. Last week we answered your questions about Regency and Victorian romance, and this week author Licie Laine (My Fair Baron) is here to talk about the few factors that might tip off that you're reading an Edwardian romance. Thanks, Licie!

We’re all familiar with Regency era romance, as who could forget Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett? And Victorian era romances are likewise popular, such as stories featuring the real-life (rumored) relationship between Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne. But what about the Edwardian era? When was the last time you read a great Edwardian novel or watched the 1987 cult classic Jane Seymour – Christopher Reeves’ film Somewhere in Time?

We don’t see Edwardian romances nearly as much, but this is usually due to the fact that the era is comparatively much shorter than its historical counterparts. While the Regency era is generally thought to have lasted about 42 years from 1795 to 1837 and the Victorian era encompassed Queen Victoria’s reign until her death, a total of 64 years, the Edwardian era only officially lasted ten years from 1901 to 1910. However, the era is sometimes nebulously attributed to style trends as far back as the 1890s and as far forward as 1914 prior to the First World War.

So how can you tell if your historical romance is Edwardian? Look for these hallmarks:

Fashion

A lot can change in 22 years, and fashion, for instance, was quite different in 1890 than it was during the Titanic era of 1912. The older, whalebone corsets passed from style around the turn of the century, making way for a newer swan-bill corset that allowed for slightly more breathing room. Huge “leg ‘o mutton” puffed sleeves (remember Anne of Green Gable’s fervent desire for those?) inflated to enormous size, then slowly went back down, as did bustles. Skirts were shorter than ever before, featuring hobble skirts that brazenly displayed women’s ankles. Bonnets made way for hats, gorgeous, ornate hats that announced a lady’s status as well as her stylishness.

The ways in which women were able to shop for clothing also transformed during this period. The very first “department store” had been conceived not long before, a place where a person could find everything they needed in one shop, or in a chain of shops in one area, which gave rise to the new phenomenon of “ready-made clothes.” Instead of clothing being made by hand or commissioned from a seamstress on an individual basis and custom fit, they were starting to be mass produced in more general sizes that could then be altered to fit the individual. This caused a bit of upset among the higher class (some of whom insisted they would never wear something that her own personal seamstress hadn’t made) because it put better quality clothing in the hands of the lower class, and helped to blur the line between the upper echelons of society and the merchant class. More people were entering this new “middle class,” who were successful, but had earned their money through hard work rather than family estates and inheritances.

Technology

Modern technological inventions were also coming into being and making important advances during this era. Telephones were becoming quite common, though they had yet to replace the letter completely. And instead of writing by hand or using a printing press, typewriters were becoming more readily available to the public. Although these early versions could only type in capital letters, they ushered in a big step forward in communication. The wireless telegraph was invented in 1901, which could span the Atlantic (dare we call this the beginnings of the internet?). Electricity was also becoming more common in households, allowing for light bulbs rather than gas lights and the introduction of the refrigerator.

Another big change at the turn of the century was in photography. People no longer had to sit for paintings to be rendered, or even sit for the complicated photo plate process. The new box roll film camera was coming into vogue, allowing people to take a photograph almost instantly. These were the first paper photographs, rather than a glass photoplate. The introduction of film was one of the era’s most important technological innovations, laying the groundwork for movies and then television. But perhaps the biggest contribution of this era was the growing popularity of motorcars. Cars increased people’s ability to travel, though they were still not commonly used by the average person. The presence of an early automobile is a sure sign that you’re reading an Edwardian novel.

Gender Equality

Women also first began to gain more agency in the Edwardian era. There were more opportunities for women to find work rather than marry and having options greatly decreased the pressure on women to find a man. They could be more picky, encouraging men to up their courtship game if they wanted a lady to accept their suit. Bicycles became hugely popular as a way for women to get around without a horse or car, increasing their independence. Men were afraid bicycles would make women “promiscuous” from spending too much time on the narrow seat. These were the same men who had said it was dangerous for a woman to travel by train because her reproductive organs might fly out of her if she traveled that fast. Many people insist that these silly notions were really about keeping women subservient.

This was the beginning of suffrage, where women began to fight for more rights, to be considered equal to men. They wanted to vote, to hold property, to be seen as more than just a husband’s asset. Women were growing independent and rebellion against family tradition was becoming more common. Remember the “Sister Suffragettes” song from Mary Poppins? Mrs. Banks’ insistence on “Votes for women!” would lead the way in this era of growth. It’s one reason why Edwardian novels can be so exciting – women were realizing that they were strong and could be successful all on their own. It wasn’t all about being the perfect wife candidate in order to snag the perfect husband and make their family proud by marrying well. Her worth wasn’t determined by the number of children she produced. A woman had worth of her own, by herself, she didn’t need a man to make her life complete. This was new and thrilling at the turn of the century.

The Edwardian era was one of the most interesting and relevant periods of growth in the world, despite being so often overlooked. Next time you drink Coca-Cola, drive a car, Put On Your Sunday Clothes, or read about the Theory of Relativity, remember the Edwardian era.

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Learn more about or order a copy of My Fair Baron by Licie Laine, available now:

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Licie Laine lives in Port Orchard, Washington, the real-life town made popular by bestselling author Debbie Macomber in her Cedar Cove series. She is a graduate of Goldenwest College in Southern California. My Fair Baron is her debut novel and book one of the Romance Remade series from Crimson Romance. Look for book two, The Meddling Madam, in early 2018.


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2 comments
Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
The lines between periods sometimes blur for me when I'm reading historicals, so this is a nice refresher! Thank you.
brontëgirl
2. brontëgirl
Interesting!
I never thought of the Betsy-Tacy and Deep Valley books being set in the Edwardian age, but yep, they are, even if the setting is in small-town Minnesota and Minneapolis.
The characters discuss changes in fashion, and tho' most have their clothes made by a seamstress, some begin to buy ready-to-wear dresses. A few of the girls drive their own or the family car or a boyfriend's car. Betsy uses a Brownie camera, the characters go to movies, and toward the end of the series some of the characters own gramophones. Some of the women are married w/ kids and would nowdays be called "stay-at-home moms." Others have what nowdays would be called stereotypical female jobs--hired girl, piano teacher, singing teacher, librarian, seamstress, volunteer ESL teacher/social worker, school teacher, and the Deep Valley high school principal is a woman. Mrs. Main-Whittaker is an author, and Betsy has several stories published. Other women have other sorts of jobs. One woman owns her own PR firm and Betsy prepares for work there at the end of Betsy's Wedding, and other women work in art advertising (Tib), opera (Julia), and journalism (some of the women at the Violent Study Club which is a writing/critique group). The approach to all this is matter of fact.
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